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DC By the Book

District of Columbia Public Library, DC
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Innovation Summary

DC By the Book, a collaboration between the public and the public library, is an online map of Washington, D.C. as it has been represented through passages in adult fiction. The project promotes reading, digital skills, and new ways to interact with the physical and social landscape of the city.

Problem Statement

DC By the Book is a highly-collaborative initiative that allows residents to share and view D.C. neighborhoods, intersections, street corners, landmarks and addresses through the lens of fiction. The project combines the traditional role of the public library as a center for reading, imagination, and learning with the emerging realm for libraries to create, curate and collaborate on content. Goal 1 - Activate an online map-making tool that is easy to use and offers new ways to interact with and interpret our world. Engage the public in direct participatory map-making to crowd-source site content. Goal 2 - Put Washington, D.C. on the map, literally, as a city with a rich civic and neighborhood life, beyond the Federal city. Highlight passages that explore the social and geographic history of the city in situ, engaging both residents and non-residents with the city as diverse residents experience it. Goal 3 - Bring together organizations with overlapping interests in D.C. local history to deliver a new shared service to the public. Develop a full complement of programming to generate excitement about D.C. fiction. Goal 4 - Promote reading and promote D.C. as a great place to set fiction. Goal 5 - Serve as a model for others who might want to develop a similar literary mapping project.


Element 1 - Apply online map-making tools to create projects that wouldn't have been possible a few years back. Element 2 - Experiment with the emerging field of geo-humanities as a suitable programmatic space for libraries. Element 3 - Repackage and re-engage with fictional passages to illuminate a "felt sense" of the city; re-introduce the public to the variety, depth and layers of fiction set in D.C., including the ability to sort passages by theme and decade, neighborhood and upload supporting images and other multimedia. Element 4 - Capitalize on initial grant funding to build a scalable project that can, for example, expand the website to include a web-enabled presence for Smart phones and tablets and potentially a mobile app. Additionally, children's books, poetry or writers' home can be added in the future. There is also the potential to license the product for use by others. Element 5 - With the library as the lead, identify ways to involve community partners.


DC By the Book strikes a chord with the public, as evidenced by the reception to the project's launch on March 27, 2013. The local National Public Radio station hosted an hour-long segment on the project featuring one of the project's co-creators. The Washington Post ran a front page story in the Style section along with several more news outlets covering the launch. Currently, there are 100 adult fiction passages entered, with the goal of mapping 1,000 passages by September 2013. Additionally, we project about 500 attendees at book discussions, author talks and map-a-thons in the first six months. DC By the Book is designed to take what libraries and cultural organizations already do well and coordinate resources around a shared passion for D.C. history and D.C. fiction. An anticipated outcome is that the success of the project will result in more partnerships. Also, we plan to engage more adult librarians across the public library system who will serve as content moderators, develop programming and participate in social media promotion. Ultimately, we aim to generate a comprehensive literary map of the District that grows as new fiction is written, with corresponding multimedia that dynamically evokes each place.